Steamboat Ski Jumping



Colin Clark practices his jumps at practices that draw spectators.

Noah Wetzel

Koen Strook is sitting on the start bar atop one of Howelsen Hill’s seven ski jumps. The 13-year-old is the equivalent of 11 stories up, his skis fixed in the tracks of the steep 32-degree ramp under them. When he looks up, he sees his hometown of Steamboat Springs spread out beneath him in miniature scale.

 

“Holy … this is scary.”

 

Finally, someone noticed.

 

It’s the first time in three nights of practice that any of the 100-plus young ski jumpers with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club has even acknowledged that launching oneself into the air at a high rate of speed might be cause for concern.

 

Koen’s quiet concession is no indication of his resolve, or lack thereof. His words still in the air, he sits up off the bar, gets into tuck position and is gone. He speeds down the ramp known as the “in run” at speeds approaching 60 mph, hits the flat part of the jump known as the table and then he’s in the air.

 

Ski jumping is a quiet sport. There is no starting gun. The athletes aren’t thrill-seekers egging each other on with shouts of “Get it, dude,” so they can post some attention- grabbing video of an epic jump on YouTube. Instead, Koen’s fellow ski jumpers in the 11-to-14 age group wait in the bleachers for their turn, encouraging their teammates with a single word, spoken in a hopeful whisper:

 

“Fly.”

 

That’s what ski jumpers do: Fly. Buffeted by crosswinds, they travel the length of a football field in the air before gracefully reconnecting with the earth. Stopped for the light on a westbound street downtown, drivers will see a speck seemingly suspended in mid-air before dropping from view.

 

“A jumper is never that far off of the ground as they follow the landing profile or contour – skimming the ground, so to speak,” said Todd Wilson, SSWSC Nordic combined/ski jumping coach for the last 27 years. It sounds like something he says to placate nervous jumpers or parents, but the only noticeably nervous people on the hill are the folks from out of town.

 

The night of Koen’s jump, a group of tourists have walked the couple of blocks from a downtown bar to watch. When the 13-year-old takes flight, they suck in air and their eyes grow big watching these still-little people taking flight on giant skis. Then they clap and cheer in a mixture of awe and relief when the jumpers come in for a landing, legs staggered, one knee bent in a telemark stance.

 

Instead of celebrating, the jumpers themselves ski over to a nearby coach to quietly assess the takeoff, the position in flight, the landing – and of course, the distance traveled.

 

For the rest of the story see the November/December 2019 issue of Colorado Life.

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